Not everyone wants to turn Putin into an economic pariah because of the Ukraine war


Shortly after the Russian army invaded to try to take control of Ukraine, Maria Zakharova, the belligerent Foreign Ministry spokeswoman in Moscow, insisted her country still had many friends in the world.

She meant mainly China, but also others.

“Look at the reaction of the world giants – the ones who are not trying to present themselves as giants, but who are really giants,” Zakharova said in a prime-time state television interview on February 28, four days after Russian troops struck one Bloodbath had begun attacking cities and towns across Ukraine.

Zakharova and her Kremlin associates have advanced many bogus conspiracy theories to justify Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked attack on a sovereign neighbor. But she was not wrong when she suggested that much of the world, at least in terms of population, is not prepared to completely reject Russia in response to the war in Ukraine.

The United States and its European allies, with the support of close partners such as Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea, have imposed tough sanctions on Russia. These measures are hitting the Russian economy, sending the ruble plummeting and driving some of the world’s most famous brands to leave the country.

But not everyone agrees with forcing pariah status on Putin.

“Beyond this strengthened coalition, very few nations have chosen to participate in the economic war against the Putin administration,” wrote David Adler, general coordinator of Progressive International, a group that promotes left-leaning organizations and causes, in a May 10 statement. March Commentary in the British newspaper Guardian.

He compared the grouping of countries seeking to chart their own course in relation to Russia to the non-aligned movement that emerged in the post-colonial 1950s, which avoided affiliation with a larger power bloc.

By referring to “world giants” who have chosen not to completely reject the Russian leader, Zakharova was mainly referring to China, which the Biden administration is trying to dissuade from providing aid to Moscow during the war.

But some of the world’s most populous countries — including India, Pakistan, Brazil, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Mexico — are also signaling a desire to maintain trade and other ties with Russia while declaring their impartiality on the war.

Less than two weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly – 141 to 5 with 35 abstentions – to condemn the attack and urge Putin to withdraw his forces. But analysts say that while the vote is an important signal of international disgust at Russia’s attack, it doesn’t really serve as a barometer of intentions to reject Moscow outright.

The four states that sided squarely with Russia in voting against the non-binding UN resolution were themselves international outliers: North Korea, Syria, Eritrea and Russia’s ally Belarus. Although the US and its allies presented the vote as a clear choice between freedom and oppression, abstentions included India, the world’s largest democracy.

India imports up to 85% of its military equipment from Russia, making it Moscow’s largest arms buyer. At the same time, it has drawn closer to the West and its allies, as it also seeks to counter Beijing’s reach.

“India is caught in a homemade trap between Russia and China,” said James Crabtree, executive director of the Singapore-based International Institute for Strategic Studies-Asia.

“A lot of the weapons they need to defend themselves against China come from Russia,” he said. “And that’s why you don’t want to get into a situation where you piss off the Russians.”

The war has forced Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to walk a political tightrope. At a rally this month, he said India was “on the side of peace” and was friendly with both Russia and Ukraine.

The war has also been uncomfortable for some authoritarian-leaning leaders like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban, who have maintained friendly ties with Moscow over the years despite their countries being in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Erdogan, who spoke to Putin just hours before the invasion began, is said to have been taken aback by the scale and ferocity of the Russian attack. Turkey has been pushing for a negotiated solution and hosted a round of talks between Ukrainian and Russian foreign ministers last week.

For his part, Orban has condemned the Russian invasion and said his government will not veto European Union sanctions. But he also says Hungary is staying out of the fight and will not follow the example of other European states in supplying arms to Ukraine.

Latin America’s largest economy, Brazil, is taking no sides in the Ukraine war. Shortly before Russia invaded, Brazil’s right-wing populist President Jair Bolsonaro visited Putin and declared his “solidarity” with Russia. Now Brazil is adopting a deliberately neutral stance, with its Foreign Minister Carlos Franca telling reporters in Lisbon last week that Brazil is “on the side of world peace.”

Mixed signals are also coming from some countries that consider themselves close US friends, including Israel. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has sought to play a mediating role between Russia and Ukraine, both of which have warm ties with Israel. However, critics at home and abroad have accused Bennett of particularly muted criticism of the invasion.

The Muslim world poses another set of challenges for the US-European axis positioned against Putin. The Biden administration has so far unsuccessfully urged the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to increase oil production to mitigate a surge in gas prices partly attributed to the invasion — although independently demand has been hampered by the severe coronavirus outbreak in China has declined.

In the Arab world, it has not gone unnoticed that huge numbers of Ukrainians fleeing the fighting have been warmly welcomed by neighboring European states, in sharp contrast to Poland and Hungary, which block Muslim migrants trying to end conflicts such as the war to escape in Syria.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, voted in favor of the UN resolution condemning Russia, but analysts said the vote did not reflect complicated stances on Moscow and the West.

Indonesia, also the largest economy in Southeast Asia, has traditionally remained neutral on global affairs. This year it holds the rotating presidency of the Group of 20 major economies, which includes Russia.

In a recent interview with Japanese financial newspaper Nikkei, Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo said that the G-20 is a forum for economic discussion, not political affairs.

As analysts point to Indonesia’s growing trade ties with Russia in recent years, Jokowi has avoided naming Moscow over the war, saying diplomacy should take precedence over sanctions.

“Indonesia didn’t want to be seen as an ally of the West,” said Made Supriatma, an Indonesia expert and visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

According to Radityo Dharmaputra, an Indonesian PhD student in political science at the University of Tartu in Estonia, there is a strong trend of anti-Western, pro-Russian sentiment on social media in Indonesia.

“There’s this narrative in Indonesia that the invasion is NATO’s fault, that it’s the West’s fault, even though the situation is more complicated,” said Dharmaputra, who studies Russia’s relations with Asia.

“That’s partly because the US and Europe have failed to reach the public in the developing world, while Russia and China engage in public diplomacy,” he said. “We are now seeing the cost of this lack of attention.”

King reported from Washington and Pierson from Singapore. Not everyone wants to turn Putin into an economic pariah because of the Ukraine war

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